Our Friend is a triangular narrative based on an Esquire article by journalist Matthew Teague about the death of his wife, Nicole. Before Nicole succumbed to cancer at age 36, an unusually intimate bond formed among the couple and mutual friend, Dane. Despite the ravages of fate, Dane offered a preternatural degree of support, caring for the Teagues’ daughters and effectively becoming a fifth family member.
During the Gravitas Ventures movie’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film awards-season event, the three lead actors — Casey Affleck, Dakota Johnson and Jason Segel — credited director Gabriela Cowperthwaite with creating an on-set atmosphere that allowed them to explore the material’s intimate shadings. As a filmmaker best known for documentaries like Blackfish, she “has the ability to see reality as very raw,” Johnson says. “It felt very clear and pure.”
Cowperthwaite “didn’t want the scenes presented as melodramas or paintings,” Segel says. “So, you were encouraged to be natural.”
Segel says tracking the years of the three characters’ deepening ties enables the inexorable ending to not feel too overwhelming. “It’s ‘Oh, this is what would happen if my best friend died,’ ” he says. “But you have to set up the ‘best friend’ part.”
The three actors had never worked together, and they say the novelty added a jolt of energy to the shoot. “We were all friends and it felt good,” Johnson recalls. “When we had some heaviness or difficult scenes, we also were playing between takes.”
The film’s release this month by Gravitas Ventures, on the heels of a bruising year of quarantine, racial unrest and other tumult, could heighten its impact, Affleck believes. “People are going to bring a lot of vulnerability to anything they’re watching,” he says. “People feel sensitive and quick to cry. This movie is going to tap into that a little bit.”
Check out the panel video above.
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